1871 Yukon Nuggets
An Immigrant’s Story
A few men made millions in the early days of the Klondike gold rush. Thousands, it is said, left the Klondike with nothing but memories.
This story is about a poor immigrant named John, who was born in Sweden in eighteen seventy one (1871). With what little he had, he bought a ticket to America, and departed wearing his first set of clothes that hadn’t been spun and woven by hand.
John worked in labouring jobs, cutting timber, and then mining coal. He slowly worked his way west. When the discovery of gold in the Klondike was announced in eighteen ninety seven (1897), he had enough money to buy an outfit in Seattle and head north on an overcrowded ship destined for Skagway.
He and his partners laboured over the White Pass and on to Dawson, where they were able to salvage enough lumber from their river scow to install a floor and doors in their hand-built log cabin a kilometre up the Klondike valley from Dawson City.
John stampeded to All Gold Creek, where he found no gold at all. All he got for his effort were frozen feet. He then worked on other men’s claims until he had enough to buy a share of a claim on Gold Run Creek, a tributary of Dominion Creek, south of Dawson.
He didn’t find much gold on that claim either, so he sold out and left with thirteen thousand dollars ($13,000). In Seattle, he married and built a home. In partnership with a Swedish shoemaker, he invested four thousand dollars ($4,000) and opened a shoe store. After a slow start, the business flourished, and expanded to two stores. In nineteen thirty (1930), he sold his interest in the two shoe stores to his three sons.
John’s sons expanded the business throughout the years of the great depression and the war that followed. In nineteen seventy one (1971), the business went public. By nineteen ninety five (1995), the company had opened forty six (46) full-line department stores. Today, the business also markets its goods through an e-commerce division, and is the biggest independent retail chain in America. In early twenty fourteen (2014), it announced plans to expand into Canada.
The claim on Gold Run Creek that John sold later yielded two million dollars. But that fortune evaporated. Today, John’s small Klondike investment provides a very comfortable living for a fourth generation of his descendants. Not a bad legacy for an impoverished European immigrant to leave behind.
The man’s name was John W. Nordstrom.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Michael Gates.